Saturday, January 31, 2009

john martyn 1948-2009

John Martyn died on 29 January, aged 60. Although I’d come across his music over the years, it wasn’t really until a couple of summers ago, when lovely friend and illustrator Si Smith told me that Martyn’s “Small Hours” was probably his favourite single piece of music, that I really started to appreciate John Martyn’s amazing repertoire of work. “Solid Air” is regarded as one of the classic albums (I’ve seen it described as “the musical equivalent of a reassuring hug”!); the title was apparently dedicated to his friend Nick Drake, who died shortly after the album was completed.
Click on this link to watch him performing “Small Hours” at Reading University in October 1978.

Friday, January 30, 2009

“sorry, I haven’t got anything smaller…”

Amused, but also very depressed, by this image of a trillion dollar Zimbabwean bank note (yes, trillion!) which was introduced a couple of weeks ago (this one is obviously a spoof, but…!) – a real one is worth about £20 on the black market. As of yesterday, Zimbabweans are being allowed to conduct business in other currencies, alongside the Zimbabwean dollar, in an effort to stem the country’s runaway inflation. It now appears that the real inflation rate has actually exploded beyond calculation but, back in November 2008, the inflation rate was judged to be 13.2 billion per cent a month (or just 516,000,000,000,000,000,000 per cent a year or, if you’d prefer, 516 quintillion per cent)!
The moral of this tale is presumably: “don’t put your Z$ trillion note under your mattress - because it might not be worth anything by the morning”?

Monday, January 26, 2009

burns supper

Our lovely Scottish friends Alan+Gareth (Gareth was actually born in India but her parents were Scots!) invited Merry-Carol+Gerry+Moira+I round for a wonderful meal to celebrate RB’s 250th birthday last night. We had the whole works: cock-a-leekie-soup, “haggis warm reeking, rich wi’ champit tatties and mashed neeps” and cranachan plus the Selkirk grace, some poems (fortunately, we didn’t do speeches!) and the odd glass of whisky!
Pity today is Monday and a school day!
PS: Had a lovely weekend in Oxford with our old friends John+Caroline. Even managed to attend a presentation on building plans for their church in Summertown (and realised that I’d been a member of the original building committee – some 35 years ago! Blimey!).

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Really moved by yesterday’s inaugural speech by President Obama.
A measured speech, but containing some inspirational and yet quite humble assertions.
Somehow, at this time of enormous global challenges, the time seems absolutely right for a charismatic world leader to emerge who can provide people with hope and inspiration. Whether or not he “succeeds” is another matter but, for this moment, I feel reinvigorated with a fresh heart and a very real sense that we WILL be able to overcome the obstacles before us if we all pull together.
Strangely, having watched “Slumdog Millionaire” at the weekend, I’m feeling wonderfully energised with hope, inspiration and the resilience of the human spirit!
Ridiculously naive? Maybe, but don’t knock it!
PS: I think Messrs Brown, Cameron and Clegg may be feeling somewhat daunted by it all!

Monday, January 19, 2009

message to a nation....

“Nature still offers her bounty and human efforts have multiplied it. Plenty is at our doorstep, but a generous use of it languishes in the very sight of the supply. Primarily this is because the rulers of the exchange of mankind's goods have failed, through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and abdicated.
Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men. True they have tried, but their efforts have been cast in the pattern of an outworn tradition. Faced by failure of credit they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence. They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish.
The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.
Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy and moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men”.

Extract from Franklin D Roosevelt’s inaugural speech on 4 March 1933 (nearly 76 years ago!)
Sounds familiar?
PS: Today is Martin Luther King Day in the States (born 80 years ago today)…. if ever there was a time we needed to dream, this is it!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

1,000 must-read novels

This weekend’s Observer+Guardian newspapers included the first two supplements (of seven) entitled “1,000 Novels Everyone Must Read”. If one assumes (perhaps somewhat optimistically!) a reading life of say 70 years, this amounts to reading nearly 15 novels a year. Frankly, I’m not going to make my 1,000. Although I can read up to five books on a fortnight’s holiday, my current annual average is about a measly three or four. Moira, on the other hand, is on her fifth book of the year already!
PS: I checked out the newspapers at the Watershed while Moira was buying drinks yesterday and, somewhat bizarrely, came across the “Daily Telegraph Review” which featured “100 Novels Everyone Should Read”. How embarrassing! A spy in the camp perhaps?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

slum dog millionaire and fire alarms

Gareth+Alan+Moira+I went to the Watershed again this afternoon to see Danny Boyle’s wonderful “Slum Dog Millionaire”. Just brilliant! Some pretty harrowing bits, but also some amazing (sometimes pretty sordid) colourful images of India.
Incredibly, the fire alarm went off about ten seconds before the final kiss (listen, I’m not giving anything away here – afterall, the publicity blurb talks about it being the “feel-good film of the decade”!). At the time, we didn’t actually know it was quite so close to the end and so we all had to exit the cinema (in an orderly fashion of course!). After all the suspense of the film, the fire alarm interruption was somewhat surreal. Most people re-entered the cinema after the “all clear” – by which time the audience seemed to have inherited a great sense of camaraderie (“we’ve been through this experience together chaps”) and immediately burst into applause when the final kiss was eventually planted! Actually, there’s a great dance sequence on the platform of the railway station at the end, so we were very pleased to have stayed on for that.
Lovely film - definitely a “must see”!

Friday, January 16, 2009

there’s a recession on….

Thought this extract from an article by Liz Ford in last Saturday’s “Guardian” (“Work” supplement) was pretty pertinent:
“Students who expect a career in investment banking to bring untold riches may be in for a rude awakening. A survey of students around Europe applying for graduate trainee schemes this year, conducted by UK-based global financial careers website, eFinancialCareers, found that more than a third of British applicants believe they will be earning more than £90,000 five years after graduation, compared with 14% in France and just 3% in Italy. The majority also believe they will land a job straight after graduation. We feel duty bound to remind students that around 30 applications are received for every one available job and, unless you have friends in high places, it could be a long time before you hit the magic £90K – there’s a recession on.”

Thursday, January 15, 2009

brian eno’s singing manifesto

In this week’s “Something Understood” on Radio4 (introduced by “The Kitchen Sisters”?), I was amused and intrigued by a brief clip from Brian Eno (iconic “artist, musician, idealogue and systems-maker”) on the virtues of singing:
“I believe that singing is the key to long life, a good figure, a stable temperament, increased intelligence, new friends, increased self-confidence, heightened sexual attractiveness and a better sense of humour”. No wonder I can’t sing!
He also maintained that, in a recent Scandinavian survey, three factors stood out as being crucial for a happy and healthy old age: “camping, dancing and singing”.
So, there you have it…..

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Sorry – another posting on education!
I spend some of my time at school sitting down with individual pupils - listening to their problems and, when appropriate, offering advice. This is a particularly important time for Year 11 pupils. With only some 15 school weeks before they sit their GCSE examinations, this often means trying to motivate students (particularly boys!) to get off their backsides and to start focussing on their impending exams. I’m finding it particularly difficult this year with one boy (with whom I actually have a very good relationship). He’s very bright, articulate and incredibly lazy! He really doesn’t like school (although he reckons he wouldn’t turn up his nose to one-to-one tuition in all his subjects!). His mock exam results were well below his target grades and he says he just can’t be motivated to do any work. He reckons he’s “always managed to turn things round at the very last minute” and that he needs this sense of danger/potential failure to push him into action. I’m left feeling incredibly frustrated by my inability to motivate him to modify his thinking and, as a result, am left with a huge sense of my own inadequacy and “lack of tools” to deal with this pupil.
At the end of the day, I know he’ll be absolutely fine, but that doesn’t help ME right now!
PS: He had one of his Science module exams on Monday and, somewhat proudly, told to me that he’d actually done some revision over the weekend!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


I’ve been thinking quite a lot recently about a particular Year 11 boy at school. He’s being sensitively mentored by another teacher. He’s intelligent and capable of going to study at university and gaining an excellent degree in whatever subject he chose. The trouble is that he is adamant that education is pointless. Why should he achieve good results in his GCSEs and/or his A Levels? Why can’t he just be left to muddle along in his own sweet way? He has no desire to travel the world (or even leave Somerset!). He has no ambitions other than to rid himself of people constantly nagging him to push himself. It’s all very sad and he’ll no doubt look back in five years’ time and accept that his current views are somewhat ridiculous.
Having said that, the implications of the global credit crunch could yet make us all change our thinking. Parents, teachers and politicians have constantly been telling young people that a university education was the key to getting a good job. Unfortunately for today’s graduates, the world is no longer their oyster. In the words of the excellent article by Patrick Barkham and Polly Curtis in Saturday’s “Guardian”, they’ve been “floored by the sucker punch of recession”. The article highlights demoralised graduates unable to find work (“2:1s are not worth anything anymore because everyone’s got them”) and talks to influential economists (one of whom believes that 3million will be out of work by the end of the year – and warns about the long-term “scarring” if this new generation of unemployed people are out of work for more than a year).
This all reminds me of previous tough times (eg. in the early 1980s) when the construction industry, in particular, was very badly hit and my firm had to downsize and were unable to take on young graduates. Perhaps we’ve just become too used to the “good times”? For me, going to university was the best thing I’d done in my life up to that point and I certainly have no regrets. Would our daughters say the same thing? I’m not sure.
PS: Just don’t get me on to the subject of “hey, why don’t we keep all young people in schooling until they’re 18 (mumblings that the Government might even be considering such a move as early as THIS summer…. aaaaargh!)!

Monday, January 12, 2009

the reader

Moira+I went to the cinema for the first time this year to see “The Reader” at The Watershed (no, I didn’t have another “bed day”!). Very glad we did. Beautifully-crafted, haunting love story set in post-war Germany – essentially all about coming to terms with the past. Kate Winslet is just brilliant (overnight Golden Globe winner for best supporting actress). Despite less than encouraging reviews in The Guardian and The Observer, I found it absolutely riveting.
PS: Moira+I set ourselves a target of going to the cinema (DVDs don’t count!) once a month during the course of 2008 (our previous average was about once every 18 months!). Well, I’ve just checked and it appears that we managed a total of ten visits last year – pretty good for us!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

bed day

As those you who know me will be aware, I’m normally not one for staying in bed in the morning (understatement!). The last time I can actually recall spending any daytime in bed was a few years ago after I’d been following detox instructions from a friend (I can remember being violently sick after only a couple of caffeine-free days and a liquid diet – no red wine I hasten to add - which included starting the day drinking two litres of water. Never again!). Well, I’ve been feeling pretty rough over the Christmas/New Year period with a heavy cold so, having de-camped to Bedroom 2, decided to remain in bed yesterday and, amazingly, did so until late afternoon. I managed to read some of my books (“Surprised by Hope” by Tom Wright and Michael Palin’s “Dairies 1969-1979”) plus “The Guardian” from cover to cover. I wasn’t feeling ill, but in a strange way (and it rather pains me to admit this), I really rather enjoyed it!

Friday, January 09, 2009

misunderestimated president?

Gerry pointed out this link on the BBC website last night.
I just can’t wait for Obama to become president but, having been reminded of some of the amazing utterings from the present incumbent, I think might actually miss George W (just a tiny bit!)!

Monday, January 05, 2009

christmas carol

With the new school term starting today, it seemed a little strange to spend last night at the theatre instead of getting books ready or ironing clothes. A group of us went along to the Tobacco Factory to see “A Christmas Carol” and the added bonus for Moira+me was that Felix (Hannah’s husband) was in the cast. It proved to be an excellent evening and we agreed with the Guardian’s theatre critic when she said that “Felix Hayes turns in the best performance of the night as the Ghost of Christmas Now: a hilarious, blaxploitation-tinged interpretation, looking like Brian Blessed in a floor-length fur coat and sounding like Barry White”.
We thought he was wonderful (obviously)!

Sunday, January 04, 2009

saturday morning

Had a rather unusual, but very enjoyable morning yesterday. Unremarkably, I got up pretty early and messed around downstairs but then, very unusually(!), went back to bed to read for an hour or so. I remained in bed (unheard of for me!) to listen to “Saturday Live” on Radio4 (it’s not the same with Fi Glover still on maternity leave!) before getting up and having a lazy bath. Meanwhile, Ruth rang to find out if we fancied a walk with them along the beach at Sand Bay so, by noon, that’s exactly what we did – in glorious sunshine. Absolutely beautiful, despite the cold (lots of ice on the beach and strips of snow/slush marking the high tide). Had an hilarious game of football with Iris – who spent most of the time giggling and repeatedly saying "I'm laughing!" in between kicks – before returning home to cheese+beans on toast!
Photo: footie on the beach at Sand Bay (starring Ruth+Iris+Moira+Stuart).

earth abbey, mark tully+satnav

Went to the Earth Abbey “Mid-winter Celebration” at Faithspace in Stackpool Road yesterday afternoon. EarthAbbey is a movement of people helping one another to live more in tune with the earth. Some really interesting stuff.
It seems to me that Earth Abbey has quite a few links with this morning’s “Something Understood” on Radio4 (always thought-provoking and usually presented by the wonderful Mark Tully – another contender for a place in my World XI?) entitled “Is This the Way?”. He couples this question with another: “How Should I Travel on This Way?”. The programme included an amusing reference to SatNavs via Michael Bywater’s article ‘The Curse of SatNav: On a Road to Nowhere…’ published in The Independent in April 2008. The following is a brief extract:
The more we rely on satnav, the more the world becomes something seen – or unseen, or barely noticed – through glass. The glass of the satnav display and the glass of the windscreen become indistinguishable; the former is merely a better, more reliable (we believe) version of the latter. The cityscape, the buildings, the landmarks, this cathedral, that office block: they merge into something called "information", a better recension of which is available by looking at the satnav. We no longer notice the subtle shadings of terrain, the movement from escarpment down to estuarine plain, the changing crops”.
Image: flier for the Earth Abbey Mid-winter Celebration.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

former golfer returns (again!)

Pathetically, I only played golf TWICE during the whole of 2008.
I’m pleased to say that 2009 is looking far more positive as Steve and I managed to play at Studley Wood yesterday in glorious sunshine (I’d had my doubts on my drive up to Oxford – snow in Swindon and mist+fog elsewhere). Unfortunately, Ken+Pete weren’t able to make it, but Steve+I had a great time nevertheless. Despite having to play on “temporary greens” and not picking up a club in ages, we both played pretty well (for the record, I won on the 17th green!).
Photo: grotty picture, but at least it gives a “feel” for the weather!

Friday, January 02, 2009

happy new year!

Had a really enjoyable New Year’s Eve at Chris+Lal’s (eating/drinking/laughing and watching the city centre fireworks) and then tried to get rid of some of the excess weight by going for a New Year Day’s walk (with Gareth, Alan, Gerry+David) around Bristol…. failing miserably because we ended up at A+G’s and consumed yet more food+drink!
Photo: hadn’t previously noticed the clock on the Exchange Building in Corn Street – erected at a time when Bristol couldn’t decide whether or not to comply with Greenwich Mean Time… it shows two minute hands – one London time and the other (11 minutes later) Bristol time!